How Long Should You Rest Between Sets? [Everything You Need To Know]

How long should you rest between sets? 1 minute? 3 minutes? 5?

After reading this post you will learn:

  • The optimal rest times for muscle growth, strength, and endurance,
  • If you should be fully recovered before doing another exercise, and
  • How long you should rest between workout.

Let’s get started.

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Okay, let’s get started.

How Long Should You Rest Between Sets?

You should rest between 0.5 to 5 minutes between sets depending on the amount of weight you are using.

In general, the heavier the weight, the longer your rest periods should be. Similarly, the more repetitions you do per set, the shorter your rest should be.

In short:

  • the heavier the exercise,
  • the fewer reps you will be able to do, and
  • the longer your rest period needs to be.

Does Rest Time Between Sets Matter?

The rest period between sets matters if you are looking to optimize your training for a specific goal.

In general, there are four different types of training goals.

  1. Taining for endurance
  2. Training for hypertrophy (aka to build muscle mass)
  3. Training for strength
  4. Training for maximum power/ absolute strength

In other words, are the weights light, moderate, heavy, or very heavy?

Let’s go over each one by one.

How Long Should You Rest For Muscle Growth (AKA Hypertrophy)

If you are training for muscle growth, research shows that you should keep your rest periods to about 3 minutes.

When training for hypertrophy, you should be lifting weights that are moderately heavy.

This means that you should only be able to perform 7-12 repetitions per set with whatever weight you are using. (For more details, I have an entire article on how many sets and reps you should do here)

3 minutes is the sweet spot. If you wait too long or go too soon, then you can negate the effects of hypertrophy training.

3 minutes goes by fast. So set your timer.

How Long Should You Rest For Strength?

If you are training to build strength (aka strength training), you should keep your rest periods between 3 and 4 minutes.

It should go without saying that if you are training for strength, you should be using heavy loads.

This means your weights should be challenging. If you can do more than 6 repetitions per set, then you are not training for strength. Conversely, you should at least be able to get 3-4 solid reps per set.

The heavier weights will fatigue your central nervous system much more than hypertrophy range weights.

Several studies have confirmed that 3 minutes is a good time frame to rest to build muscular size and strength.

In addition, it may take a minute or two just to get your mental state ready for subsequent sets.

The longer rest periods should allow you to keep the volume relatively constant across sets.

How Long Should You Rest Between Sets When Using Maximum Weight?

If you are training for maximal strength (i.e 1 rep max training), you should use long rest periods of about 4 – 5 minutes.

This type of training requires the use of very heavy weights.

It is always fun to dabble in the maximal strength range from time to time.

This means you should be using weights where you can only perform 1-3 repetitions per set. (With good form!)

Training in this range is tough mentally and physically.

The purpose of the longer rest period is to allow the accumulated fatigue from the sets to dissipate and allow you to perform more than one set.

Only an experienced lifter should use this type of training due to injury risk.

How Long Should You Rest Between Sets To Build Endurance?

If you are training for endurance or metabolic conditioning, your rest periods should be 30-90 seconds between sets.

This is also known as metabolic conditioning or met-con for short.

This is beneficial for athletes who enjoy long-distance, or long-duration athletic events such as running or CrossFit.

Endurance training will typically use rep ranges > 12 reps per set.

Obviously, the weight lifted will be “light” compared to the other three training modalities, so the intensity of the exercise is much less.

Endurance training resembles cardio more than anything.

Using short rest periods allows you to keep your heart rate high to develop your aerobic system.

Do not expect to get any significant muscular size or strength using this training modality.

Is it bad to rest too long between sets?

In general, you should not exceed 4-5 minutes of rest between sets. Especially if you aren’t training for maximal strength.

Resting more than 5 minutes per set can “cool you off,” lowering your core body temperature and decreasing your blood circulation.

This will simply waste time and might decrease your ability to maintain consistent efforts between sets.

What Should You Do When resting between sets?

You can either rest completely between sets, or get ready for a superset exercise.  I recommend that you sit down, catch your breath, and get your mental state ready for the next set.

I recommend that you set a timer to make sure that you are sticking to the recommended rest periods. 

How long Should You Rest Between Exercises?

If you are lifting moderately heavy, then you should rest 2-3 minutes between exercises.

However, if you are doing endurance-type training or using lighter weights, you should only wait 30-90 seconds.

You only need to rest as long as necessary to catch your breath from the previous exercise.

You may not be completely recovered, but forcing yourself to keep working will build aerobic capacity.

How Much Rest Do I Need Between Workouts?

In general, you should aim to work out 3-4 times a week.

You should also avoid training the same muscle group with compound barbell exercises on two consecutive training days.

Allow ~48 hours of recovery between workouts for the same muscle groups.

Other Related Questions

how long Should You rest between sets for weight loss?

To maximize fat loss, you should try to do as much work as possible, in as little time as possible.

Therefore, you should use shorter rest intervals.

How short?

30-90 seconds of rest.

This will build muscular endurance, but also burn the most calories.

This type of training is beneficial if you are performing a high-intensity interval training (HIIT) style workout.

Is it okay to rest between reps During A Set?

You can rest between reps, as long as you aren’t prolonging your sets unnecessarily. This is common in exercises that start with a concentric component such as:

  • Deadlifts
  • Pull-ups
  • Rows

Resting between reps is a good way to increase the total amount of volume you do on a workout-to-workout basis. I would keep the rest to no more than 5 seconds between reps.

What If I Am Doing Supersets? How Long Should I Rest Between Supersets?

A good rule of thumb is to take 30-60 seconds between the two superset exercises, and then 2-3 minutes before restarting the next superset.

You don’t want your rest period to be so short that you can’t accomplish the work, and you don’t want to make them be too long, otherwise, there is no point in super-setting.

Supersets are best done on exercises that do not interfere with each other. I.e, don’t superset pushups with the dumbbell bench press.

Do Different Exercises Require Different Rest Periods?

Large compound exercises usually require more rest than an isolation exercise.

Just think about how you feel after a set of deadlifts compared to a set of tricep pushdowns.

You will need 1-2 minutes just to get your respiratory rate back to normal after deadlifts.

Meanwhile, you can go for an all-out run after performing a heavy set of tricep pushdowns.

I recommend that you take ~3 minutes of rest whenever you perform any of the Big 4 Compound Exercises or their variations.

This means taking at least 3 minutes of rest between sets of squats, bench presses, deadlifts, and overhead presses.

Isolation exercises will never produce anywhere near as much fatigue as these exercises would, and will benefit from the shorter rest periods described above.

Should You Rest More If You Go To Failure On Every Set?

If you are training for strength, it is reasonable to take longer rests between sets when going to failure.

If you are training for hypertrophy or endurance, you can still keep the rest periods short. 

With that said, I do not recommend that you train to failure on every set. This can be very fatiguing both mentally and physically.  I wouldn’t use failure training more than once a week.

A Complete Training Program With Rest Periods Optimized

If you want a complete full-body program to build muscle and gain strength but you don’t have much time to exercise, then check out our strength program.

It tells you:

  • what exercises to do
  • how to do them
  • how much weight to use
  • the number of sets and reps to do
  • when to increase weight
  • and how long to rest between sets

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Final Words on Rest Periods

Alright, so now you have a guide on

  1. how often you should workout,
  2. how to structure your training days,
  3. what kind of weights you should use,
  4. how many sets and reps you should do, and on
  5. how much weight you should you lift

Use different rest intervals to coincide with the specific goals you are after,

Don’t make the mistake of wasting time in between sets of exercises. When you are at the gym, it’s time for work, not play.

Now we turn it over to you.

How long do you rest between sets?

Have you ever changed the rest periods to improve a specific training goal?

Comment below and let us know!


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Alex Robles, MD, CPT / Brittany Robles, MD, MPH, CPT

Alex & Brittany Robles are physicians, NASM CPTs, health & fitness experts, and founders of The White Coat Trainer: a site dedicated to improving the health and fitness of busy professionals. Their advice has been featured on KevinMD, The Doctor Weighs In, My Fitness Pal, Reader’s Digest, Livestrong, and The Active Times. Learn more about them here.

 

References:

  1. Schoenfeld BJ, Pope ZK, Benik FM, Hester GM, Sellers J, Nooner JL, Schnaiter JA, Bond-Williams KE, Carter AS, Ross CL, Just BL, Henselmans M, Krieger JW. Longer Interset Rest Periods Enhance Muscle Strength and Hypertrophy in Resistance-Trained Men. J Strength Cond Res. 2016 Jul;30(7):1805-12. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000001272. PMID: 26605807.
  2. Schoenfeld BJ. The mechanisms of muscle hypertrophy and their application to resistance training. J Strength Cond Res. 2010 Oct;24(10):2857-72. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e3181e840f3. PMID: 20847704.
  3. Schoenfeld BJ, Pope ZK, Benik FM, Hester GM, Sellers J, Nooner JL, Schnaiter JA, Bond-Williams KE, Carter AS, Ross CL, Just BL, Henselmans M, Krieger JW. Longer Interset Rest Periods Enhance Muscle Strength and Hypertrophy in Resistance-Trained Men. J Strength Cond Res. 2016 Jul;30(7):1805-12. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000001272. PMID: 26605807.

4 thoughts on “How Long Should You Rest Between Sets? [Everything You Need To Know]”

  1. What are your thoughts on volume as it relates to rest periods? In other words is it better to do 3 sets of squats with 70% of your 1RM for RPE 7-8 with 5 minutes of rest or 6 sets of squats with 2 minutes of rest? In other words, if you only have 45 minutes to workout is it better to shorten the rest periods to increase volume or maintain longer rest period but lower volume.
    I have been experimenting recently with dropping my rest time across the board in an effort to get more total sets per week. I have only been trying this for 4 weeks so difficult to say what if any strength gains are being made but my aerobic capacity has greatly improved.

    1. The White Coat Trainer

      Hey Grant,That is a great question. In general, I would say the latter situation is more beneficial. Total volume will always be the biggest driving force in making progress over time. In addition, you get the added benefit of getting aerobic training as you mentioned.
      It will also depend on what you are training for. If you keep adding weight to the bar, there will come a time where the weights will be heavy enough to require more than 2 minutes of rest. This is particularly true for the compound upper body exercise where it takes longer for fatigue to dissipate. (I’m sure you have experienced being able to get x amount of reps on the first set of bench press or pullups, then getting fewer reps on the second set, and even fewer on the third).
      One way around this is to keep the rest periods short across the board and keep the daily volume low, but increase the frequency of the workouts so that the total weekly volume exceeds what you were doing before. You get to practice the lifts more often, and you won’t be driving yourself into the ground each training session.

  2. Coach thank you very much…

    Some guys say that if we should straight set then we should same weight… I mean:
    50 kg for 5 set and 10 rep… And if we complete 5 set and 10 rep with 50 kg, then we can increase weight… and go on same way… I mean, we should work weight max 10 rep weight actually not 50 kg, maybe 40…

    But some other guys same as you, say that, 50 kg work set first set 10 but 2.set maybe you cannot 10 then 9 or 8,… namely: max rep indeed…

    İf we choose your system, when we should increase reps…
    1:Until first set higher 10…will be 11 etc…
    2:Until all set equel first set… if first set 10,second 10 but third 8 then we work until third 10 too…

    Coach sorry my poor english but I think you understand what I mean…

    Basically you say that good form and failure… We should adding weight first set rep increase not wait until last weight increase and equel first set…

    We should adjust weight according to first set…?

    Please answer…

    Thank you for sharing amazing website and knowledge…

    1. thewhitecoattrainer

      Hi Okan,

      Thanks for your message. You can actually use either approach. I think its best for you to be able to do the same amount of repetitions on the second and third set as the first set before you increase the weight. This is especially true for beginners. However, as you get more experienced, sometimes it might be helpful to increase the weight, even if the second and third sets aren’t as strong as the first set.

Comments are closed.

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